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RETAIL: Making their list and checking it twice

Retailers across the Grand Forks region are making lists and checking them twice in preparation for Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season and always one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Retailers across the Grand Forks region are making lists and checking them twice in preparation for Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season and always one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Still, many shoppers have started early.

"We've had a lot of seasonal merchandise purchased already," said Ron Moore, store manager at Wal-Mart.

Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Retail Association, said the state generally follows national trends. And Rud added, retail sales tend to be better during election years.

"That feel-good message is out there about the economy, and retailers hope it will show up in the shopping," he said.


The average shopper is expected to spend nearly $800 this year on holiday merchandise for a total of about $50 more this year than in 2005, according to the National Retail Federation's 2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

And shoppers are expected to spend an additional $100 on themselves.

This year, the NRF estimates holiday sales will increase by 5 percent, to $457.4 billion. The average person is expected to spend $450 on family, $85 on friends, $22 on coworkers and $44 on other people, such as clergy, teachers and babysitters.

Popular items

Items expected to fly off the shelves this year include the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii video game consoles, according to Moore. Both were released this past week, prompting some gamers to camp outside stores to ensure their purchase. High-tech features of games such as the Nintendo Wii have evolved to include items such as a wireless controller that can detect motion and rotation in three dimensions.

Old toy favorites, Moore added, also are expected to make their mark among high-tech products, such as the Tickle Me Elmo interactive doll, now reborn as TMX Elmo.

When one of TMX Elmo's three tickle spots are touched, he can laugh and slap his leg or fall to the ground on his stomach and pound on the floor. The simpler shaking and giggling Elmo toy prompted long lines and fetched prices of more than $1,000 when it was introduced in 1996.

Wal-Mart is planning for long hours on Thanksgiving. With its expansion, the Grand Forks store recently switched to a 24/7 workweek and will keep those hours for the holidays. People could show up at 4 a.m. to shop, Moore said.


But toys aren't the only popular items, according to Virginia Yager, Kmart store manager. Kmart also is stocking up on Martha Stewart home decor and jewelry.

Yager said the Grand Forks Kmart store still is looking for seasonal employees to help with the holiday rush and plans to hire about 20 workers.

"The fourth quarter is always your best season for sales," she said.

Holiday season sales generally make up 30 percent to 40 percent of retailers' total annual revenue, according to Rud.

Department stores are the second-most-trafficked location during the holidays, preceded only by discount stores, according to the National Retail Federation.

At Home of Economy in Grand Forks, managers are clearing space for a shipment of roughly 800 Christmas trees to be delivered the day before Thanksgiving, according to Steve Vetter, human resources director. The company hasn't yet hired any seasonal employees, but is looking to hire about five.

Specialty stores are the third-most-trafficked locally, according to the NRF.

At Cabelas in East Grand Forks, the stores' seasonal products, such as camping and ice-fishing gear, are expected to be among popular items sold, according to Shawn Rezac, assistant store manager. Most of the store's business takes place in the fall and winter, he said.


Retailers expect this year's most popular gifts will be gift cards, Rud said.

"That's where (retailers) expect a lot of the sales increase to come from," he said. Last year, $18.5 billion was spent on gift cards nationwide.


Shoppers not only are expected to spend more this year, they'll also make heavier use of the Web, according to Rud.

"Online sales is a big concern for our local retailers," he said. "You're missing out on the impulse buy. If you're going online, you're looking for a specific item."

About half of consumers are predicted to make at least one holiday purchase online this year, an increase from 36 percent three years ago, according to the National Retail Federation. Almost 90 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally examine products on the Internet before buying in a store, with electronics being the most popular search, followed by apparel, appliances and home improvement items.

To get shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores, local companies are releasing a barrage of sale notices and advertisements. The Grand Forks Herald, for example, will run the most advertising inserts in its history on Thursday.

The North Dakota Retail Association is planning to run advertisements on the importance of shopping in the community and going to stores.


During the holidays, retailers aren't just banking on sales, Rud said. The holidays also are stores' most vulnerable time of year. Last season, U.S. stores lost $12.2 billion to shoplifters and $17.8 billion to employee theft.

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